Russian President Vladimir Putin is being lied to by his advisers about the performance of Russian forces in Ukraine as Moscow’s military offensive flounders, according to new assessments by U.K. and U.S. intelligence agencies.
Addressing the Australian National University on Thursday, Jeremy Fleming, director of GCHQ, Britain’s intelligence, cyber and security agency, said: “We believe Putin’s advisers are afraid to tell him the truth, what’s going on and the extent of these misjudgments must be crystal clear to the regime.”
Fleming added that Putin’s decision to invade Ukraine had proven to be an immense miscalculation and that he “overestimated” the ability of Russia’s army.
“It increasingly looks like Putin has massively misjudged the situation. It’s clear he misjudged the resistance of the Ukrainian people. He underestimated the strength of the coalition his actions would galvanize. He underplayed the economic consequences of the sanctions regime. He overestimated the abilities of his military to secure a rapid victory,” Fleming said.
The director of British intelligence went on to say that Russia’s military leadership has descended into chaos, and that Putin’s campaign is “beset by problems — low morale, logistical failures and high Russian casualty numbers. Their command and control is in chaos.”
He added that Russian soldiers have mutinied: “We’ve seen Russian soldiers — short of weapons and morale — refusing to carry out orders, sabotaging their own equipment and even accidentally shooting down their own aircraft.”
Fleming slammed Putin’s disinformation campaign, which targets freedom of speech in Russia: “We’ve seen Putin lie to his own people in an attempt to hide military incompetence,” adding “and all of that means, he seeks brutal control of the media and access to the internet, he seeks the closing down of opposition voices, and he’s making heavy investment in their propaganda and covert agencies.”
Fleming was cautious on whether Russia is genuine about scaling back some of its attacks, as announced by Russian negotiators in Istanbul on Tuesday.
“This week, the Russian MOD stated publicly that they will drastically reduce combat operations around Kyiv and a city in the north. It looked like they have been forced to make a significant change. But then they proceeded to launch attacks in both of those places. Mixed messages or deliberate misinformation — we’ll have to see how it unfolds,” he said.
The revelation continues the Western strategy of declassifying intelligence in order to expose the internal workings of the Kremlin. Both the U.S. and U.K. intelligence agencies have repeatedly made public sensitive information both in the lead up to war and post invasion. “It is already a remarkable feature of this conflict just how much intelligence has been so quickly declassified to get ahead of Putin’s actions. In my view, intelligence is only worth collecting if we use it, so I unreservedly welcome this development,” Fleming said.
On the other side of the Atlantic, the White House Director of Communications Kate Bedingfield shared the British assessment, and said: “We believe that Putin is being misinformed by his advisers about how badly the Russian military is performing and how the Russian economy is being crippled by sanctions, because his senior advisers are too afraid to tell him the truth.” Bedingfield added that it was “increasingly clear” the war had been a “strategic blunder” that would leave Russia weaker over the long term.